The Indian government in July 2022 ordered telecom businesses to only purchase devices from "trusted sources" for network expansion or upgrades, dealing a severe blow to Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers. A statement tightening the rules for telecom licences was released on Monday by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The action is intended to stop Chinese suppliers like Huawei and ZTE from giving Indian telecom carriers equipment for the impending 5G services.

With effect from 15th June 2021, the licensee shall only connect trusted products in its network and also seek permission from designated authority for upgradation or expansion of existing Network utilizing the telecommunication equipment not designated as trusted products, a DoT notification said.

The National Cyber Security Coordinator is the "designated authority," and it is responsible for notifying trustworthy products as well as the equipment categories for which the security standards relating to trusted sources apply the notification further said.

Recently, the chiefs of the US and the UK security agencies held an unprecedented press conference and issued a joint warning against China early July this year. The heads of FBI and MI5 alleged that China posed a long-term threat to economic and national security. China, on its part, called the accusations groundless.

But the wind against China has been blowing for quite a while now. And accusations of cyber-attacks and spying are also not new.

China’s biggest tech company, Huawei, has seen its 5G business prospects being blunted across the world, especially since the US has been actively pressing its allies to ban the company’s equipment from their national networks.

Indian Telecom companies have also effectively shut out China's Huawei and ZTE from their 5G rollouts. So, what will be the impact on India's 5G networks? And, why are many countries building China-free next-generation wireless infrastructure?

In early August, Bharti Airtel signed agreements with telecom equipment majors Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung to commence 5G services deployment across India.

Reliance Jio, which had opted only for Samsung for 4G, was reported in talks with Ericsson and Nokia, apart from Samsung. The company has already conducted 5G trials with Ericsson and Samsung. Jio is planning to offer 5G across nine cities by January, most likely starting with Mumbai and Delhi later this year.

Freezing out Chinese vendors will have an impact on Indian 5G networks because Huawei equipment tends to be less expensive than alternatives from Nokia and Ericsson.

However, India’s government and telcos are willing to absorb this impact owing to security concerns. The Indian Army plans to use 5G services to enhance communication among its frontline troops. Industry 4.0 applications will also require 5G, which will be used for setting up captive private networks to enhance efficiency at critical infrastructure like seaports and airports. Overall, there is scope for setting up more than 150 captive private wireless networks in India.

However, Huawei has won 5G contracts in Russia, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, including the Philippines and Thailand. South Africa will also be using Huawei equipment. Brazil has said that it won't exclude Chinese firms from bidding for 5G contracts. Meanwhile, Norway has decided against a ban, leaving individual companies with the right to choose. Huawei also has a presence in Singapore.

Indigenous 5G

Union Minister of State for Information Technology Rajeev Chandrashekhar recently said that India is now among the leading countries and one of the first to deliver indigenous 5G.

"The equipment that we are using now for 5G has never been used before. 2G, 3G, and 4G networks in the country were always imported from outside," he said.

"It is an important milestone for India that the spectrum's latest generation 5G network will be made available to the citizens with the equipment designed in India," Chandrashekhar added. Among other, Chandrashekhar said that it is an important milestone for India that the spectrum's latest generation 5G network will be made available to the citizens with the equipment designed in India.

Meanwhile, Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw recently said that 5G services in the country are expected to begin in October and the telecom sector will remain one of the most affordable in the world, even with 5G.